Thursday, April 22, 2010

in cold blood

Just finished listening to the audiobook of In Cold Blood. Mixed feelings. Stephen has a problem with books and movies that follow so closely on the heels of real-life tragedy, and I can understand the sentiment. Seems more exploitative when the story hasn't had time to settle into history a bit. When the people shocked and hurt by what happened haven't had sufficient time to move forward. One of the interesting things I came across while doing a bit of googling after I finished the book was a critical quote (found in wikipedia) by writer Tom Wolfe:

"The book is neither a who-done-it nor a will-they-be-caught, since the answers to both questions are known from the outset ... Instead, the book's suspense is based largely on a totally new idea in detective stories: the promise of gory details, and the withholding of them until the end."

The essay this comment comes from is called Pornoviolence. And that title makes the point as well as the comment does.

On the other hand, as I was reading [listening], I didn't really feel that my intrigue was being pulled toward the gory details at all. The book felt like a portrait of two very interesting people, and a portrait of an entire town. And, in a way, a portrait of small town farming America. Since my policy is to avoid learning anything at all about a book or movie before I partake, I didn't realize how much of the book is written in the voices of the town. Everyone in the story--the townsfolk, the murders, the victims--talk to you. It was an odd dichotomy, to me, because in some ways it had the feel of talking heads in a documentary, and in some ways it felt very personal, like those folks were just sitting across the table from you and telling their story.

I think it's a really interesting illustration of the differences between the third person omniscient and the first person points of view. There you are following that third person along, the language holding you at a certain distance--there's that flow of precise words clicking in your brain, you hear the construction laid down by the writer--and then blink, you're touched by the very personal voice of a human being. You're welcomed into a confidence. For me, the most affecting moments of the book were those moments shared with me by the voice of that town.

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